Updated: February 28, 2021
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday sent another dire warning to Africa, saying the coronavirus pandemic was “far from over”, and malaria deaths could double with many children dying as vaccines dry up.
More than 210,000 people have died globally from over 3 million COVId-19 infections, according to a virus tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
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In Africa, over a thousand deaths have been recorded and tens of thousands of people have been infected with the potentially deadly bug.
And as countries in Africa and elsewhere begin to relax lockdowns, the WHO on Monday urged them to continue to find, isolate, test and treat all cases of COVID-19 as well as trace every contact.
“The pandemic is far from over. WHO continues to be concerned about the increasing trends in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and some Asian countries,” WHO Director General,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at his regular press briefing from Geneva on Monday.
“As in all regions, cases and deaths are underreported in many countries in these regions because of low testing capacity,” he added.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said WHO continues to support countries in those regions with technical assistance through regional and country offices, and with supplies through Solidarity Flights.
“In the past week, we have delivered supplies to more than 40 countries in Africa, and more are planned.
“Globally, WHO has shipped millions of items of personal protective equipment to 105 countries, and lab supplies to more than 127 countries. We will ship many millions more in the weeks ahead, and we’re preparing aggressively,” he said.
He announced that at this week WHO will launch its second Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, with an estimate of the resources needed for the next stage of the global response.
He said more than 280,000 individuals, corporations and foundations have contributed to the Solidarity Response Fund, which has now generated more than US$200 million.
THE ROAD AHEAD
But even with those efforts, the road ahead remains long, he said.
“We have a long road ahead of us, and a lot of work to do. WHO is committed to doing everything we can to support all countries.
“But political leadership is also essential, including the vital role of parliaments. As a former parliamentarian, I fully recognize the big role that parliaments can play.”
He called for the world to come together in solidarity and national unity to confront the pandemic, and also to prevent the next one, and to build a healthier, safer, fairer world for everyone, everywhere.
“I repeat: national unity is the foundation for global solidarity. Solidarity, solidarity, solidarity – that’s what we will say every single day.
“If we’re not united the virus will exploit the gaps between us and create havoc. Lives will be lost.
“We can only defeat this virus through unity at the national level and solidarity at the global level,” he added.
HOW COVID-19 AFFECTS OTHER ILLNESSES, PUTS CHILDREN AT RISK
Dr. Ghebreyesus said “WHO is deeply concerned about the impact the pandemic will have on other health services, especially for children.”
“Children may be at relatively low risk from severe disease and death from COVID-19, but can be at high risk from other diseases that can be prevented with vaccines,” he said.
With the World Immunization Week being marked this week, the WHO boss recalled that immunization remains one of the greatest success stories in the history of global health. More than 20 diseases can be prevented with vaccines.
He said every year, more than 116 million infants are vaccinated, or 86% of all children born globally. But there are still more than 13 million children around the world who miss out on vaccination. That number would likely increase because of COVID-19.
“Already, polio vaccination campaigns have been put on hold, and in some countries, routine immunization services are being scaled back or shut down.
“With the start of the southern hemisphere flu season, it’s vital that everyone gets their seasonal flu vaccine.
“Even when services are operating, some parents and caregivers are avoiding taking their children to be vaccinated because of concerns about COVID-19.
“And myths and misinformation about vaccines are adding fuel to the fire, putting vulnerable people at risk.
“When vaccination coverage goes down, more outbreaks will occur, including of life-threatening diseases like measles and polio,” he added.
WHY GAVI NEEDS FUNDINGS
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has estimated that at least 21 low- and middle-income countries are already reporting vaccine shortages as a result of border closures and disruptions to travel.
So far, 14 vaccination campaigns supported by Gavi against polio, measles, cholera, human papillomavirus, yellow fever and meningitis have been postponed, which would have immunized more than 13 million people.
“The tragic reality is that children will die as a result,” said Dr. Ghebreyesus.
he said since 2000, Gavi and partners including WHO have helped vaccinate more than 760 million children in the world’s poorest countries, preventing more than 13 million deaths.
Gavi has set an ambitious goal to immunize 300 million more children with 18 vaccines by 2025.
To reach that goal, Gavi will require US$7.4 billion in its upcoming replenishment, Dr. Ghebreyesus said.
“We call on the global community to ensure Gavi is fully funded for this life saving work. This is not a cost, it’s an investment that pays a rich dividend in lives saved.
“Just as immunization has been disrupted in some countries, so have services for many other diseases that afflict the poorest and most vulnerable people – including malaria.”
MALARIA DEATHS COULD DOUBLE IN SUB-SHARAN AFRICA
With the world marking Malaria Day last Saturday, a new modeling analysis published last week estimated the potential disruption to malaria services from COVID-19 in 41 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
In the worst-case scenario, the number of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double.
“But that doesn’t have to happen, and we are working with countries and partners to support them to put measures in place to ensure that services for malaria continue even as COVID-19 spreads,” Dr. Ghebreyesus.